Percy's Reliques - On the Death of K. Edward the First.

On the Death of K. Edward the First.

            We have here an early attempt at elegy. Edward I. died July 7, 1307, in the 35th year of his reign, and 69th of his age. This poem appears to have been composed soon after his death. According to the modes of thinking peculiar to those times, the writer dwells more upon his devotion, than his skill in government; and pays less attention to the martial and political abilities of this great monarch, in which he had no equal, than to some little weaknesses of superstition, which he had in common with all his contemporaries. The king had in the decline of life vowed an expedition to the Holy Land; but finding his end approach, he dedicated the sum of 32,000l., to the maintenance of a large body of knights (140 say historians, 80 says our poet), who were to carry his heart with them into Palestine, This dying command of the king was never performed. Our poet, with the honest prejudices of an Englishman, attributes this failure to the advice of the King of France, whose daughter Isabel, the young monarch, who succeeded, immediately married. But the truth is, Edward and his destructive favourite Piers Gavestone spent the money upon their pleasures. To do the greater honour to the memory of his hero, our poet puts his eloge in the mouth of the Pope, with the same poetic licence, as a more modern bard would have introduced Britannia, or the Genius of Europe, pouring forth his praises.

            This antique elegy is extracted from the same manuscript volume as the preceding article; is found with the same peculiarities of writing and orthography; and, though written at near the distance of half a century, contains little or no variation of idiom: whereas the next following poem by Chaucer, which was probably written not more than 50 or 60 years after this, exhibits almost a new language. This seems to countenance the opinion of some antiquaries that this great poet made considerable innovations in his mother tongue, and introduced many terms, and new modes of speech from other languages.

ALLE, that beoth of huerte trewe,
A stounde herkneth to my song
Of duel, that Deth hath diht us newe,
That maketh me syke, ant sorewe among;
Of a knyht, that wes so strong,
Of wham God hath don ys wille;
Me-thuncheth that deth hath don us wrong,
That he so sone shall ligge stille.

Al Englond ahte for te kuowe
Of wham that song is, that y synge;
Of Edward kyng, that lith so lowe,
Zent al this world is nome con springe
Trewest mon of alle thinge,
Ant in werre war ant wys,
For him we ahte our honden wrynge,
Of Christendome he ber the prys.

Byfore that oure kyng was ded,
He spek ase mon that wes in care,
"Clerkes, knyhtes, barons," he sayde,
"Y charge ou by oure sware,
That ye to Engelonde be trewe.
Y de
ze, y ne may lyven na more;
Helpeth mi sone, ant crouneth him newe,
For he is nest to buen y-core.

"Ich biqueth myn herte arhyt,
That hit be write at my devys,
Over the see that Hue[ 1] be diht,
With fourscore knyhtes al of prys,
Iu werre that buen war ant wys,
A
zein the hethene for te fyhte,
To wynne the croiz that lowe lys,
Myself ycholde
zef that y myhte."

Kyng of Fraunce, thou hevedest sinne,
That thou the counsail woldest fonde,
To latte the wille of Edward kyng
To wende to the holy londe
That oure kyng hede take on honde
All Engelond to
zeme ant wysse,
To wenden in to the holy londe
To wynnen us heveriche blisse.

The messager to the pope com,
And seyde that our kynge was ded:
Ys oune hond the lettre he nom,
Ywis his herte was full gret:
The Pope him self the lettre redde,
And spec a word of gret honour.
"Alas!" he seid, "is Edward ded?
Of Christendome he ber the flour."

The Pope to is chaumbre wende,
For dol ne mihte he speke na more;
Ant after cardinals he sende,
That muche couthen of Cristes lore,
Bothe the lasse, ant eke the more,
Bed hem bothe rede ant synge
Gret deol me myhte se thore,
Mony mon is honde wrynge.

The Pope of Peyters stod at is masse
With full gret solempnetč,
Ther me con the soule blesse:
"Kyng Edward honoured thou be:
God love thi sone come after the,
Bringe to ende that thou hast bygonne,
The holy crois y-mad of tre,
So fain thou woldest hit hav y-wonne.

"Jerusalem, thou hast i-lore
The flour of al chivalrie
Now Kyng Edward liveth na more:
Alas! that he
zet shulde deye!
He wolde ha rered up ful hey
ze
Oure banners, that bueth broht to grounde;
Wel! longe we mowe clepe and crie
Er we a such kyng han y-founde."

Nou is Edward of Carnarvan
King of Engelond al aplyht,
God lete him ner be worse man
Then his fader, ne lasse of myht,
To holden is pore meit to ryht,
And understonde good counsail,
Al Engelond for to wysse and dyht;
Of gode knyhtes darh him nout fail.

Thah mi tonge were mad of stel,
Ant min herte yzote of bras,
The godness myht y never telle,
That with Kyng Edward was:
Kyng, as thou art cleped conquerour,
In uch bataille thou hadest prys;
God bringe thi soule to the honour,
That ever wes, ant ever ys.[ 2]

NOTES

1. This is probably the name of the person who was to preside over this business.

2. Here follow in the original three lines more, which, as seemingly redundant, we choose to throw to the bottom of the page, viz.

That lasteth ay withouten ende,
Bidde we God, ant oure Ledy to thilke blisse
Jesus us sende. Amen.

 

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